Another day, another grim story. One of the biggest waste disposal firms in the U.K is fitting cameras to its trucks because so many rough sleepers are sheltering in refuse bins. They found 93 people sleeping amongst the rubbish last year. Since their machinery couldn’t differentiate between cardboard, wood, and human flesh, this is an extremely dangerous place to seek refuge.
Who knows how many people have taken their own lives because of an ever more mean and abusive disability and unemployment benefits system? Thousands end up in police cells because there are no crisis services where they live. Women’s aid refuges are being closed (see here). Over a million people are reliant on food banks. Some 50,000 social housing tennants were evicted and moved out of their London Borough over the past three years because of welfare cuts and the bedroom tax (see here). Nearly 700,000 people are now on a zero-hours contract in their main job.
If you care about social justice, these (and many other equally pressing) issues will be all too familiar. We’re still reeling from a General Election on May 7th that gave the Tories another five years. Labour failed to make the case that austerity has been bad for the economy as well as for those impoverished, harrassed, and traumatised, by punitive social policies. They even exploited a groundswell of xenophobia by producing a red souvenir “Controls on Immigration” mug -at a time when more than 1,700 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea attempting to reach Europe in the months up to April 2015 (see here).
Global concerns, and ecological issues barely registered. I don’t want to re-run a party political discussion here, but its not just the Labour Party that needs to reflect on what has just happened.
The spring flowers seem to have been unusually vibrant this year. Perhaps my ageing heart is more open to them, but the need to protect other-than-human nature from those who see the world in terms of economic resources, private property, and status symbols, feels ever more urgent. As does the need to nurture what we might think of as the emotional and/or spiritual base of our communities, without which alternative green/left politics will surely succumb to the pandemic of alienation generated by whatever we call the toxic mix of patriarchal culture, modernist technoscience, corporate capitalism, and transcendent religion.
As I walked through the woods I couldn’t help thinking about the threat posed to the ‘English’ bluebell, hyacinthoides non-scripta, from hybridisation (with both the much paler, more fleshy leaved and upright, Spanish Bluebell, hyacinthoides hispanica, and the resulting fertile hybrid, hyacinthoides hispanica x non-scripta). The species is also threatened by illegal picking and trampling, and by climate change (it will lose the ‘early advantage’ from storing energy in bulb form as temperature dependent species grow earlier in the year).
There have been patriotic appropriations of this wonderful plant. A late Victorian source claimed that bluebells blossomed on St George’s Day and that their flowers were as blue as the ocean over which Britannia ruled.(1) But since perhaps as much as a half the global population of the species is found in the U.K there’s a reasonable case to protect its integrity, hopefully without resorting to xenophobic language about alien invaders.
According to Plant Life the bluebell (a.k.a Fairy Flower or Wood Bell) was once thought to ring out to summon fairies to their gatherings. Anyone who heard a bluebell ring would soon die. I’m not sure about that, but its not hard to see why carpets of bluebells were associated with enchantment.
Margaret Baker, Discovering the Folklore of Plants, Shire Classics, 1969/2013.